The common misconception of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD’s) is that they all develop suddenly from a strenuous movement such as heavy lifting. Although improperly carrying large objects is a leading cause of workplace injuries, long periods of small, repetitive movements can be just as damaging. According to the 2019 Liberty Mutual Safety Index, repetitive strain injuries (RSI’s) involving microtasks cost U.S. companies $1.59B annually.
Many companies look towards ergonomically designed equipment in an attempt to engineer RSI’s out of the worker’s environment - however, they often overlook how the worker moves their body as they work. Educating the workforce on the fundamentals of proper human movement will have a positive impact on productivity as well as a reduction in workers’ compensation costs. Below are some techniques to prevent repetitive strain injuries by getting to the root of the problem: correcting the movements that are known to cause overexertion and muscle fatigue.
The way workers interact with their environment can significantly increase the chances of developing an RSI. No matter how simple the task, employees must begin the habit of identifying where the risk lies within the job. A typical motion, such as regularly bending underneath large equipment, can have a debilitating outcome if done incorrectly. According to the CDC, work-related back symptoms are among the top ten reasons for medical visits. Unfortunately, between 5%-10% of patients that experience a back injury develop future chronic pain.
Understanding the best possible body positions for each task will not only make the workforce stronger, but also more efficient when faced with a challenging workload. A worker that is tasked with moving several large objects will already know that using a hand truck will help him move the load easier and faster. What that worker may not know, is that the hand truck merely reduces the load. By using strong body positions in tandem with a tool like a hand truck, the load becomes even lighter, the work even easier, and the injury risk significantly lower. When holding a hand truck, be sure to protect the shoulders by rotating them back and keeping the elbows in. The chin should also be tucked in with the neck aligned with the spine. Next, engage the core, keep the butt tight and roll the hips forward. When walking with the object, be conscious to avoid “duck feet” or feet facing outward. These actions keep the body in its safest and strongest positions for a task that, if done incorrectly, could lead to future injuries.
Effectively assessing high risk behavior and efficiently performing safety habits are actions that become second nature over time. As reported by NASA, it takes 30 days to create a pattern that becomes subconscious thought. Introducing a program that utilizes microlearning is the best way to ensure that employees retain the movement techniques that prevent repetitive strain injuries in the workplace.
When it comes to injury prevention, it’s not a matter of strength or flexibility. Just as an athlete learns the core movements that drive peak performance, workplace athletes within physically demanding jobs must be well versed in movement techniques that drive safety and efficiency.